Sofía Honrubia Checa
Sofía is a Spanish naval engineer who has risen through the ranks of Europe's fifth largest naval company, Navantia, to become its Commercial & Business Development Vice-President and one of three women on the board of directors.
She enjoyed physics at school, “and I liked technology and just had a spontaneous interest in boats” so although there was “absolutely nobody” in her family who'd previously been involved in the navy or shipbuilding, she decided to study naval engineering at the Polytechnical University of Madrid. “There were about five girls in a class of around 60!” she laughs.
She graduated in 1992 and began her career in July 1994 with the Spanish public naval shipyard Empresa Nacional Bazán as an engineer in the propulsion and services department. In July 2000 Bazán merged with Astilleros Españoles to form IZAR which, in March 2005, was named Navantia.
After a nearly 3-year stint as a fast ferries sales engineer, she became the structure department manager where she worked, amongst other things, as a specialist in advanced structural analysis, fatigue and vulnerability on a wide variety of projects.
She was involved in Thailand's first and only aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, flagship of the Royal Thai Navy, and the world's 10th largest aircraft carrier. She worked on the five F-310 Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates that are the main surface combat ships of the Royal Norwegian Navy. And on the four Avanto 1400 Guaicamacuto-class offshore patrol vessels for the Venezuelan Navy, three of which were built in Spain and commissioned in 2010 and 11. The fourth one, the Comandante Eterno Hugo Chavéz (originally named Tamanaco), has been built in Venezuela and a few days ago was reported to be “almost ready” for delivery.
Amongst other projects Sofía worked on the S-80 submarine and the F 100 Álvaro de Bazán stealth frigates for the Spanish navy. “It was tremendous teamwork,” she tells me, perched informally on a stool at the Navantia stand at the Euronaval trade show which opened today in Paris. “And I've never come across any discrimination,” she adds. “On the contrary, I took my four months maternity leave for each of my three children and on two occasions, when I returned to work, I got a promotion.”
Nevertheless, she decided to go into the private sector and worked from 2008 to 2012 for Altran, the world leader in engineering and R&D services. Obviously, she was in the naval sector!
But in February 2013 she was drawn back to Navantia when they offered her the position of Naval Ships Business Development Director. “Because this involves exports, I have to travel a lot, notably in the Middle East.” I ask her if she has ever felt that she has not been treated seriously in this job because she is a woman. “No,” she says immediately. “In countries where women do not have the same position that they do in the West, it is actually the position, the job, that is respected, so whether it is held by a man or a woman makes no difference. On the contrary, I think sometimes people have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable.”
What has been difficult is being away from her children so often. “It is really hard to leave my young son and two little girls but even though my husband has a demanding job as the director of an aeronautical company, his job does not involve any travel so he's been the one responsible for much of the childcare and household chores.” She says that they could not really count on either set of grandparents “because they don't live in Madrid,” but the family does have a housekeeper “and she helps with the children too.”
Sofía remarks that “curiously, today, I get more questions than I did before about where I am professionally. Somehow, before this recent woman's movement, it was more natural, people assumed I’d got where I was because I was competent. Today people question whether my promotion is due only because I'm a woman rather than because I'm the right person for the job.”